Mind the gap – moving beyond the dichotomy between intentional gestures and emotional facial and vocal signals of nonhuman primates

Interaction Studies. Social Behaviour and Communication in Biological and Artificial Systemsinteraction Studies / Social Behaviour and Communication in Biological and Artificial Systemsinteraction Studies 19 (1-2):121-135 (2018)
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Despite the variety of theories suggesting how human language might have evolved, very few consider the potential role of emotions in such scenarios. The few existing theories jointly highlight that gaining control over the production of emotional communication was crucial for establishing and maintaining larger social groups. This in turn resulted in the development of more complex social emotions and the corresponding sophisticated socio-cognitive skills to understand others’ communicative behavior, providing the grounds for language to emerge. Importantly, these theories propose that the ability of controlling emotional communication is a uniquely human trait, an assumption that we will challenge. By taking a comparative approach, we discuss recent findings from behavioral and neurobiological studies from our closest relatives, the non-human primates, on the extent of control over their gestural, facial and vocal signals. This demonstrates that research foci differ drastically across these modalities, which further enhances the traditional dichotomy between emotional, involuntary facial and vocal expressions in contrast to intentionally, voluntarily produced gestures. Based on this brief overview, we point to gaps of knowledge in primate communication research and suggest how investigating emotional expressions in our closest relatives might enrich the road map towards the evolution of human language.



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